England will on Tuesday consider the evidence of the Pune pitch before deciding whether the plot will thicken in the curious case of the missing Moeen Ali.
An all-rounder who was once an England fixture in all three formats has not been seen since the confusion over his ‘choosing’ to go home after the second Test against India to stay fresh for a Twenty20 series he then failed to appear in.
And Moeen was forced to wait on Monday by England captain Eoin Morgan before being put out of his misery and told if he will appear in the first of three one-day internationals that conclude his highly forgettable tour.
A very late call will be made on the inclusion of Moeen Ali before England’s first ODI vs India
India: R Sharma, Dhawan, Kohli (captain), Iyer, Pant (keeper), Pandya, Sundar, Thakur, B Kumar, K Yadav, Natarajan.
England: Roy, Bairstow, Stokes, Morgan (captain), Billings, Buttler (keeper), Moeen (or S Curran), T Curran, Rashid, Wood, Topley.
‘We see the 50-over format between two T20 World Cups as a building block for our squad,’ said Morgan after seeing his full-strength T20 side beaten 3-2.
‘That’s not compromising performance because we have a lot of depth outside our first XI. Given there’s a T20 World Cup round the corner and the white-ball formats are aligned this is a huge opportunity for those on the fringes.’
But the England captain simply said ‘no’ when asked if he could confirm whether the fringe player that Moeen has now become will definitely be among those given a chance.
‘I know he hasn’t played so far,’ conceded Morgan. ‘But that has been circumstantial. The pitches we played on during the T20 series just didn’t turn and that limits a finger spinner’s contribution.’
That was Ahmedabad but England have moved on to the Ageas Bowl lookalike ground in Pune. Is there more encouragement for Moeen now? ‘Historically Pune has not been a turner,’ cautioned Morgan. ‘It is a high scoring ground. I am not expecting the pitch to turn but, if it does, that will be good experience for us.’
So while it seems certain Sam Billings and Reece Topley – and possibly Liam Livingstone – will be given a chance against India on Tuesday in a side shorn of Joe Root, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes, Moeen was again left in limbo.
With Adil Rashid now indisputably the white-ball team’s top spinner, Moeen will only play now in both 50 and 20 over cricket, it seems, if conditions dictate.
Eoin Morgan’s side will be looking to put the T20 series defeat behind them on Tuesday in Pune
Morgan insists the 34-year-old remains upbeat towards the end of a winter’s touring that started with him testing positive for Covid in Sri Lanka and then playing in just one Test against India. ‘He takes these things in his stride,’ said the captain.
‘The little period Mo spent at home did him the world of good. He has come back refreshed with plenty of energy. He is a relaxed guy who always has a good perspective on life and sport. He is travelling really well.’
One player certain to feature on Tuesday is Ben Stokes, a frustratingly peripheral figure in the T20 series but now playing his first 50-over international since his dramatic starring role in the 2019 World Cup final at Lord’s.
Stokes could fill in for Root at No 3, the position where many would like to see him in the short-form game that so often passes him by. But Morgan would only say ‘it’s great to have Ben back. Any chance we have to get him into a white-ball game is brilliant.’
Ben Stokes could fill in for Joe Root at No3 as England aim to make a winning start in ODI series
Virat Kohli could not resist having a little dig on Monday about England’s attitude towards umpires in the T20 series which, coming from an India captain who has been fortunate not to attract the attention of the ICC throughout this tour, was a little rich.
But, speaking before his opposite number, Morgan denied there was tension between two sides who clashed again in the last T20 on Saturday when Kohli gave Jos Buttler a send-off and then clashed with the umpires himself.
‘When games are close there is potential for emotions to boil over but relations are good and there’s huge respect between the sides,’ added Morgan.
It remains to be seen now whether Moeen has earned enough respect from his captain to finally get a game.
Morgan’s England side were edged out 3-2 in the thrilling T20 series against India last week